Foster care finds a voice: Lemn Sissay remembers

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Foster care finds a voice: Lemn Sissay remembers

Foster a different voice for care

Foster a new voice for care

Foster children and those who leave care need powerful advocates. People who have direct experiences of the foster care system. Foster care certainly affected Lemn Sissay. Of that there is no doubt. In 2017 the ‘Report’ was staged in London. It was about his experiences growing up in care. In the 18 years he was in the care system, he suffered different types of abuse. His original foster care placement with a white married couple broke down. This led to a long period of instability. Between 12 and 18, he was in different care homes. These were years when he experienced physical and emotional abuse. He also had to deal with racial abuse. He remembers being spat at.

When he was born, his mother was Ethiopian and living in Wigan. She refused to sign adoption papers. Although very young, she wanted her son back when her life improved. Lemn was put into care when he was only two months old. Things did not get easier when he left care. He had a flat without a bed and no money. Lemn was determined to find out about his past.

The ‘Report’ is about the struggles he had getting information. He discovered his real name was Lemn Sissay. He was then given a letter his mother had sent to a social worker. This letter pleaded for Lemn to be returned to his mother. It took a huge effort to get his original files. He had to return to Wigan to find them. In 2010 he had made a radio documentary called ‘Child of the State’. Lemn only started to make real progress finding out about his life two years ago. The Head of Social Services told him that his files had been found. When he had these, they gave him the background he needed to write the ‘Report’.

Foster care and rejection

Wigan council finally apologised for the way Lemn had been treated. They also told him he could make a claim. It was not easy. The council took months to respond. It was a struggle for Lemn. He was offered eleven times less the amount he finally got. His struggle continued. To challenge the level of compensation, Lemn had to get a psychologist’s report. This is something all victims of abuse have to provide. He found these experiences very painful. They are common for people in his situation. His main reason for staging the ‘Report’ was to show what people have to go through to get redress.

The ‘Report’ is also about how his foster care family rejected him. After this he had an unstable life.

Although it is some time ago the ‘Report’ was staged, foster care is again in the spotlight. This is because many young people in foster care find their placements break down. Like Lemn, this can make their lives very unstable. It can affect their performance at school. Many children who have been in foster care do not go on to higher education.

The ‘Report’ tells how Lemn started writing poetry. It also tells how he travelled the world to find his family. They rejected him. Despite this Lemn has achieved great things in his life. He was awarded the MBE for services to Literature in 2010. In 2012 he was made the official poet for the Olympics.

Lemn Sissay beat Peter Mandelson to become the chancellor of the University of Manchester.

Another of Lemn Sissay’s considerable achievements is the ‘Christmas Dinner’. He founded this in 2013. It provides a memorable day for around three hundred care leavers. They are aged between 18 and 25. It is put on in five cities. They are London, Liverpool, Leeds, Manchester and Oxford.

The young people are driven to top venues. The Christmas Dinners will be prepared by top chefs.

Marks and Spencer participated in the project by supplying food.

More information on the work of Lemn Sissay can be found at –

A view of foster care

Lemn Sissay thinks there is still a lot wrong with the care system. He says “Care is a one-word oxymoron. If we were to truly replicate what a family is for the child who’s being looked after by the state, if the state was truly to provide that, it would give them the best of everything.” Lemn passionately believes in this vision of care. He is a powerful voice for all those in foster care.

8,000 new foster homes are still needed? 

You could have the life experience and skills to help a vulnerable young person. Many more foster carers are needed. It is not difficult to become a foster carer. You need to have a spare bedroom. And you have to be over 21.

What kinds of people foster?

Rainbow fostering welcome all new applicants – regardless of their ethnicity or religion. An individual’s sexual orientation or relationship status will not prevent them from fostering. You can foster if you are single, in a couple, divorced or married. You can also foster if you have your own children.

Many foster children have couples needs. We train people to become therapeutic foster carers to look after such children. Find out more about this at

We also have teenagers and sibling groups who need foster homes.

Whatever type of fostering interests you please call 020 8427 3355.  You can also use our National Line 0330 311 2845.

More information is on our website – visit  We have just updated our Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) page on our website. This covers many enquiries about foster care – visit

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